Yogi Berra once quipped, “90 percent of baseball is half mental.” Whether that makes any sense to you or not, you’ll learn that baseball is a mind game and to play well, you must master the mental side of the sport.
It’s not called “The Great American Pastime” for nothing. Baseball is the greatest sport ever invented. But in a game in which “90% is half mental,” it is imperative to be able to master the mind game of baseball.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of a strong mind in our sport because controlling the activity of your body has a direct relationship to your ability to control your mind. But being mentally strong isn’t as tough as it may seem. There are three keys to helping players of all levels take control of their mind to become better ballplayers.
The first key is to learn to relax. For those of us who love the game, here is the ultimate catch-22. If you want to do well in the game you enjoy so much, it’s only natural to care. But the more you care, the tighter you play. And playing tight is a surefire way to fail.
Coaches can also play a role. In trying to impress a coach, young players (and older ones too) end up trying too hard. As a football lineman, you can get away with that, but squeezing the life out of a bat won’t help you. You have to be relaxed.
When it’s the bottom of the ninth with the tying and winning runs in scoring position and you at the plate, relaxation sometimes feels impossible. It’s not! Try wiggling your fingers to make sure you aren’t gripping the bat too tightly. If you can see the muscles in your forearms bulging, you’re either named Albert Puljos or you need to relax your grip. Moving your fingers forces you to release your vise-like grasp.
Another way to relax is to take a deep breath. This is a simple method that has been proven to help people relax in many situations. In yoga the practitioner masters the art of breathing before anything else. It’s a simple process. Just start inhaling from deep in your stomach, then let that rise up until you’re inhaling from your chest. Hold it for a full second, then exhale in the opposite direction.
It’s well known that if someone is upset, counting to ten and taking a deep breath will help them relax. Baseball is no exception. You will feel immediate results from simply breathing deeply.
Another way to relax is to think about having fun. After all, that is the reason we all play the game. So focus on the fact that you are on the field to play, not because you’re forced to be there. When I was playing college baseball, some of my teammates and I got baseball-related tattoos. Mine is on my shoulder and says “Great American Pastime.” Before each at bat, I touch my shoulder as a way to remind myself that I’m playing a game and it should be fun, not stressful. I’m not saying you should get a tattoo; you can find your own way to remember that you’re playing a game.
Key #2 ...
To unlock the last 2 keys to mastering the mental challenge of competitive youth baseball, subscribe now to Junior Baseball. Advice and insight into improving your game can be found in every issue! Click here to subscribe now!